LotRFI Pt.58–The Scouring of the Shire

I was utterly unprepared for the Scouring in my first read of LotR. Almost every book I had ever read had an ultimate climax, and then a denouement to return the main characters to normalcy. I was shocked that there could be trouble after the Ring is destroyed.

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Image copyright Sergei Yukhimov

This event was pivotal to my interpretation of the hobbits in my first reading, though. This is where the hobbits display their new-found maturity. The quest has changed each of them, and those changes are displayed throughout their confrontations in the Shire. Merry, Pippin, and Sam all gained courage, confidence, and the ability to lead others.

Nowhere were these traits more apparent to me than in the preparations leading up to the Battle of Bywater. The hobbits of the Fellowship gather together disparate groups of hobbits and rally their spirits to out their oppressors.

For Sam, courage manifests itself on a personal level as he finds the strength to talk to Rosey Cotton, and ultimately marry her. Frodo, though, shows a different type of development. He has learned pity and mercy after these characteristics saved his life and all of Middle-earth. He demonstrates this several times in his interaction with Saruman and Wormtongue outside of Bag End. He offers them freedom and forgiveness several times.

As a child, I detected the changes in Pippin and Merry much more readily than those in Frodo and Sam. Their actions and outward appearance changes drastically after the quest. Even Sam was easier to understand because he seeks out more responsibility and involvement in the community. While Frodo partakes in many of these same responsibilities, this is not as noticeable a change for him.

Unlike the other hobbits, though, Frodo carries wounds that never heal. While Frodo was my least favorite hobbit, I still pitied his pain and I wondered if he would ever find healing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Grey Havens, then on to the final words of the story.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the change in the hobbits?
What did you think of Frodo’s pain?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.56–Many Departures

Since I can remember, I have been prone to melancholy when significant events or phases of my life conclude. I do not know if this was caused by LotR or if I already had this tendency. What I know for certain, though, is that the protracted series of departures in Book VI were cruel and unusual punishment to me as a child.

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Image copyright Peter Caras

Each character that broke away and said goodbye would sting a little bit more. This started as early as the departure of the Fellowship from Gondor. I knew that everyone would have to return home, but I did not like saying goodbye to the likes of Faramir and Éowyn. As the Rohirrim leave for their land, another wave of sadness struck as the brave Eorlingas left. As Gimli and Legolas bade farewell to the Fellowship and turned toward their various ends, I was greatly saddened. Oddly enough, Treebeard saying goodbye to Merry and Pippin was one of the hardest farewells for me to read. This emotion finally reached its pinnacle with the departure of Aragorn. I remember sobbing as he vanished in the glimmer of the Elfstone, thankfully I was at home.

This extended leave-taking is still hard for me to read without welling up with emotion. I do not know what inspired Tolkien to write the departures in such a prolonged manner, but it certainly struck home in this reader in the first reading.

A couple of side-notes:

The way that the three bearers of the Elven Rings talked back and forth was interesting to me, though I did not wholly understand that they were actually conversing with one another. I just assumed this was some long exchange of meaningful glances.

I thought that the interaction with Saruman on the side of the road was the last I would see of him. I thought it served to show his declined state and how he was prone to making idle threats. I did not know that it foreshadowed his part in the Scouring of the Shire, but more on that later.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A special mystery post about an undisclosed character, then on to the Shire!

What Do You Think?

Do you like how Tolkien organized the departures?
Did they change your estimation of the book?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.55–Aragorn King, Aragorn King

When Aragorn finally acknowledges his title, beginning with the ride out to the Black Gate, he changes dramatically. He becomes an archetype of the ‘good king.’ This is a motif that I was familiar with from reading Arthurian fiction, and Aragorn fits the role pretty well. Like my response to Frodo, I appreciated how Aragorn took on the responsibility of kingship but I did not like him as a person in this role as much.

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Cover art copyright Michael Herring

I cannot overstate how much I loved Strider in my first reading. He was cool but responsible, mysterious but stately. He was like the gruff uncle or something. He was very likable and I felt this likability diminish as he ascended to his throne. In short: I liked Strider better than Aragorn, and I think I still do. As a character, Aragorn becomes more distant and aloof to the hobbits. This is only natural because he has so much more responsibility, but it felt like a ‘growing apart’ in a way. Aragorn was moving on with his life, and the hobbits and I were still the same.

We were changed by the quest, of course, but not by status or class. For the hobbits and the reader, the change is internal, a maturing or growing up, but for Aragorn it is largely external. I felt this keenly in my first reading. While I still loved Aragorn, because he was still partly Strider, I lamented his change in status. Since I did not read the appendices, I did not know that the hobbits ever saw Aragorn again. I thought that he basically forgot them once he went back to Gondor: a melancholy ending to the relationship.

As a side-note: since I did not read the appendices or pick up on the hints throughout the text, Arwen was a mystery to me when she showed up to be his queen. I did not know who she was, or why she should have such an immediate claim on Aragorn. I essentially had to judge her based on her actions once she is Aragorn’s queen. I decided that I liked her enough, because she gave Frodo a present, but that I still did not know her very well. Keep in mind that I did not realize what she actually gave Frodo. I thought that she basically gave him a token, and that she was simply describing how he is destined to go West (something that I promptly forgot before the end of the book).

Where Do We Go From Here?

To talk about the many departures, then a special mystery post!

What Do You Think?

How did you feel when Aragorn became king and started taking on those responsibilities?
Did you feel a shift in his relationships to other characters?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.52–Frodo

I have waited this long to address Frodo as a character because he was one of the most difficult characters for me to understand in my first reading. While the narration often seems to hover around Frodo, it was never clear to me what his motivations were or how he was truly feeling, especially in Book VI.

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Image copyright John Howe

Frodo was my least favorite of the hobbits when I first read LotR. I found him very difficult to identify with because he seemed more focused than the other hobbits and, generally, kept his gaze toward greater concerns than the others. In a way, it strikes me now, Frodo is a more adult figure than the other hobbits. While he is not on the level of the Big People with his knowledge and experience, he is more mature and worldly than any of the hobbits, or at least he acts that way. I never liked Frodo’s character very much because he struck me as the patient sufferer, a role I never have been able to relate to; I have often been accused of not suffering fools gladly.

Even though this is the case, I still respected him greatly for the role he plays in destroying the Ring. When I heard others contend that Sam, not Frodo, was the true hero of LotR, I was defensive immediately. Frodo carries a burden unique from the rest of the Fellowship. I understood that distinction instantly, and felt that awarding the title of hero to anyone else was demeaning that burden. While I admired Frodo and thought him the true hero of the story, I could not see much of myself in him.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To Mount Doom, then to think about Sauron and the nature of Evil in LotR​.

What Do You Think?

How did you first read Frodo as a character?
How did he compare to the other hobbits?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.42–Merry

While I saw Pippin’s lightheartedness as a very relatable trait, I was also able to identify with Merry during certain points of the epic. Unlike my adulation of Pippin’s jovial nature and individual growth, my identification with Merry was from a negative perspective.

 

Merry’s time alone in Rohan was perhaps the most affective part of his story for me. His time with Théoden begins in happiness. He is honored and sits next to the king and regales him with stories (RK, V, iii, 796). When word comes that the Rohirrim must go aid Gondor, Théoden telld Merry that he cannot go with them.

‘You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Éowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead’ (RK, V, iii, 803).

Merry becomes indignant because he does not wish to be left out:

‘But, but, lord,’ Merry stammered, ‘I offered you my sword. I do not want to be parted from you like this, Théoden King. And as all of my friends have gone to battle, I should be ashamed to stay behind…tie me to the back of [a horse], or let me hang on a stirrup, or something.’

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Image copyright John Howe

This kind of useless bargaining and pleading between someone lower in position and a figure in authority reminded me very much of interactions I had had with my parent not many years before reading LotR (and perhaps some interactions even at the time of reading, if I am honest with myself). In a sense, Merry’s subordinate role in Rohan as a figure of entertainment one moment and as a burden the next mirrors a lot of the childhood experience.

The next chapter set in Rohan (RK, V, v) opens with Merry reflecting on his isolation. To make matters worse, the first interaction Merry has is with Elfhelm the Marshal who trips over him and curses him as a tree root. Merry stands up for himself, saying:

‘I am not a tree-root Sir…nor a bag, but a bruised hobbit’ (RK, V, v, 831).

Although his daring is not rewarded very kindly, as Elfhelm still calls him ‘Master Bag’ at the close of their conversation (RK, V, v, 831). Then Merry is overlooked as he ‘crept’ close enough to the conversation between Théoden and Ghân-buri-Ghân to narrate the scene for the reader (RK, V, v, 832).

The Rohirrim constantly ignore and/or disregard Merry. Perhaps this is a kind of othering. While it can, of course, be interpreted in many ways, this othering always reminded me of those times when adults would tell me to settle down, be quiet, and stop getting in the way. This really resonated with me as a child. Though I had what I would consider a happy childhood, I certainly experienced this kind of reprimand on occasion. The kind of loneliness and isolation that can accompany such an encounter feels on-par with what Merry experiences in Rohan. I could easily relate to the feeling of dejection that Merry feels.

My reflection on Merry’s part at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Scouring of the Shire will come later.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Onward, to battle!

What Do You Think?

How did you read Merry’s experience in these chapters?
Do you think this reading is feasible or insane?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.41–Pippin

Pippin has always been my favorite hobbit. I was first interested in him because of how funny he is in the first book, especially in “Three is company” and “Shortcut to Mushrooms.” He remained my favorite because I appreciated his process of maturation as the story progresses.

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Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

His cheerful spirit serves as a comedic relief during many of the less active passages in the text. From his snarky comment in Rivendell,

‘”Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that”’ (FR, II, i, 226)

to his curiosity in Moria, which lands the Fellowship in some trouble, Pippin remains fairly charming and lighthearted. It is not until Gandalf grows angry and berates Pippin

‘”Fool of a Took…This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!”’ (FR, II, iv, 313)

that he starts to transform into a more serious and responsible character. This interaction in Moria, reminded me of a parent scolding a child. Pippin did something which was outside the normal expectations and it could have, and ultimately has, dire consequences. Gandalf chides him in the way that a concerned mother or father might express exasperation at a child who touches a stove or runs into the street. This confrontation seemed to me to be the starting point for Pippin’s transformation.

The two places where Pippin’s character shows real growth are in his actions to escape the Uruk-Hai in Rohan, and in his time spent in Gondor. When he is with the Uruk-Hai, Pippin is not a passive observer of events. Instead, he keeps his wits and not only manages to escape, but also leaves a clue for the Three Hunters to follow.

Pippin’s largest step toward becoming a responsible adult is his time spent in Gondor. Here he volunteers his service to the steward of Gondor to repay his debt to Boromir:

‘”Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.”’ (RK, V, I, 754/5).

He feels accountable for Boromir’s death and seeks to make amends. Not only does this act show Pippin becoming more mature, but it puts him in a role of responsibility. A role which he performs very well. His next show of responsibility is that he chaperones Bergil, Beregond’s son, around Minas Tirith. Pippin no longer interacts with Bergil as his equal, though he cannot resist an occasional joke, but he sets restrictions on Bergil and enforces them. Finally, Pippin’s decision to disobey Denethor’s wishes and save Faramir shows the kind of complex reasoning and questioning of authority that is typically associated with maturity. He is not simply rebelling against authority because it is authoritative, nor is he blindly following it. He weighs consequences and decides to act in the way he think is best. Though I could not have expressed ,many of these concepts in this way when I was a kid, I certainly respected Pippin’s growth as an individual, and understood that he had earned responsibility and was using his judgement wisely.

Pippin’s story is a bildungsroman. This greatly impacted me in my first several readings of LotR. I will talk about the Scouring of the Shire in a later post, but I think the arc of Pippin’s character is clear already. He stays jovial throughout the text, I love his interaction with the Three Hunters in “Flotsam and Jetsam,” but he matures over the course of his journey. This is why Pippin was, and still is, my favorite hobbit from LotR.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We will look at Merry next, then explore the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

What Do You Think?

What did you think of Pippin in the early parts of the text?

Did your impression of him change as he developed over the course of the story?

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.39–Sam’s “Meta” Moments

One of the inspirational aspects of Tolkien’s work which really stuck with me in my first reading was Sam’s perceptive moments where he talks about how the adventure he is in is like the adventure he learned as a child. A great example of this tendency occurs of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol Chapter. Sam recounts part of the tale of Beren and Luthien and then falls into reflection, saying:

‘But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it…and why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve goy – you ‘ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ (TT, IV, viii, 712)

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Image copyright Ulla Thynell

Then Frodo and Sam talk about the nature of stories and the part that characters play in them. This was important to me because it gave me a connection to the characters I was reading about. I wanted to believe that these stories were real, that they mattered. This vision of how a story could impact the life of the listener/reader was very inspiring to me. I think that, had it not been for the several moments like this in TT and RK, perhaps LotR would not have been as impactful on me. Not only did these passages make this story more meaningful, they made reading as an activity more important. I really internalized these observations a lot in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe we will start RK with a visit to Minas Tirith. That seems fitting!

What Do You Think?

What is your impression of these moments with Sam?
Have these episodes ever impacted your reading outside of Tolkien?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.34–Sam and His Creature Comforts

I was always a very curious, some would say nosy, child. I was always trying to understand why things happened or why people made the choices they made. I was a big fan of “reading into” things ever since I discovered it as an activity. While this tendency led me into hot water many times, I had not yet learned to dull this passion by the time I read LotR. One of the activities I “read into” the most was Sam’s constant attention to Frodo’s needs and comfort—don’t get ahead of me here, or maybe you will end up in hot water.

Perhaps the most notable example where I uncovered Sam’s motivation is when Sam attempts to cook a nice stew for Frodo in Ithilien. The reader hears Sam’s thoughts in this passage, which make some clear indications about the emotions that inspire him to make the meal:

‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no’ (TT, IV, iv, 652).

‘Too thin and drawn he is…Not right for a hobbit’ (TT, IV, iv, 653).

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Image copyrights Sergei Yukhimov

Sam’s compassionate nature in general, and his affection for Frodo especially, are not disguised in the tale. What is interesting is how those feelings manifest themselves in, essentially, attempting to care for Frodo as if he were Frodo’s parent—more specifically his mother, as foreshadowed by David Craig, but I would not have made this more specific observation as a child. Sam is attempting to preserve Frodo’s sense of security and his sense of comfort: trying to remind Frodo of home and the good things which life has to offer. This was an interesting observation for me when I first realized it. It was probably easier for me to notice than some others because I grew up in the American south—where the stereotype is that a mother expresses love through food. In any case, I always had a soft-spot for affection expressed through quiet moments of understanding and small gestures of love (I did mention that Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books, remember).

This deep friendship between Frodo and Sam was something which I cherished as a young reader. While I frequently compared my relationships to the ones in the book, I do not know if I ever considered if I had a relationship quite like the one between Frodo and Sam, I do not think so. While I did not have a relationship like this, it did not seem odd to me that they should be so close. Many fans have questioned the feelings between Frodo and Sam, and many scholars have pointed out that the overtones that readers notice to make such assertions are indicative of a type of friendship between men that existed in a different time. As a young reader, none of this occurred to me. I thought their fondness a perfectly natural thing. I realized that I did not have a friendship like theirs, but it was not until I started growing up that I realized that men in my culture do not tend to have such close bonds or at least express affection as openly and deeply.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to journey to the Black Gate, then visit with Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What did you make of Sam’s tendency to, essentially, nurture Frodo?
How has your reading of their relationship changed over time?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.31–Gimli

My fondness for Gimli grew very much over the course of book III. Since the passages in and around Moria were the highlight of my prior experience with Gimli, there was not a lot of character development to him other than his obstinacy and tendency to argue against everything Legolas mentions. Basically, I did not read him as a well-defined character until book III.

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Image copyright Matt Stewart

I believe that this started in the passages of the Three Hunters. The fact that the Fellowship has shrunk to three characters allows for each of them to have more meaningful interaction, and I felt like Gimli’s character really benefitted the most from it.

I loved his indomitable spirit as the three run after the Uruk-Hai to rescue their abducted companions. He is not the punch line of every joke, as Jackson makes him out to be. He shores up the spirits of his companions. At the outset he proclaims:

‘Dwarves too can go swiftly, and they do not tire sooner than Orcs’ (TT, III, I, 420).

Even more, he is not as simple as Jackson would have us believe. He offers good counsel to Aragorn at a crucial decision:

‘Only by day can we see if any tracks lead away…even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause…and if we rest, then the blind of night is the time to do so’ (TT, III, ii, 425).

So from this section on I always saw Gimli as a fully-formed character. What really made me like Gimli, however is his interaction with Merry and Pippin upon catching up with them at Isengard. His exasperation with the hobbits and his amicability after tobacco is offered as a means of amends endeared him to me. Gimli became a character that I truly enjoyed over this section.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A visit with Saruman, then on to the Dead Marshes.

What Do You Think?

Did you like Gimli’s character?
When did you develop your opinion of Gimli?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!